Paid parking plan for Lori Wilson Park supported
Brevard commissioners still need to determine fees
COCOA BEACH, Fla. – Brevard County commissioners gave their initial support Tuesday to a plan to charge out-of-county residents to park at Lori Wilson Park in Cocoa Beach.
The parking fees are still to be determined, as are details of how to accommodate Brevard County residents who want to park there, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.
Money raised by the parking fees would help pay for capital maintenance, operations and improvements at the 32.4-acre beachfront park, located east of State Road A1A.
County Commissioner Jim Barfield — whose district includes Cocoa Beach — said he wants to have free parking for Brevard County residents. But, first, a plan would have to be worked out on the technology for determining when a Brevard resident is driving into the park.
In any case, Barfield said, there would be no entry fee for people who walk into or ride their bikes into the park.
An initial draft submitted with Barfield's agenda report to county commissioners listed a proposed parking fee of $5 an hour for out-of county residents, up to a maximum of $25 a day. That could generate more than $533,000 a year in parking fee revenue.
The draft report also listed a proposed $20-a-year annual parking pass for Brevard residents.
But Barfield said he would be pushing for a plan to allow Brevard residents to park at Lori Wilson Park at no cost.
In a 4-1 vote Tuesday, county commissioners approved creating what's being called a "beachfront parks enterprise plan" for Lori Wilson Park; assigning oversight of Brevard County Parks Department operations and maintenance for the park to the Space Coast Office of Tourism; and creating a special revenue account for the park.
Barfield said many residents of the Orlando area and elsewhere use the park because of its beach access and free parking, "and they're putting a lot of stress on that park," increasing the county's cost to maintain the facilities there.
The proposal commissioners approved is "a method of stepping out of the box" to help pay for park maintenance, Barfield said.
Space Coast Office of Tourism Executive Director Eric Garvey called it an "innovative" strategy to pay for park maintenance that could become "a grand plan for all county parks along the beachfront."
Commissioner John Tobia voted against the plan. He said he favored having the city of Cocoa Beach take over operations of the park, similar to what some other cities have done with what previously were county parks within those cities' boundaries.
Tobia also supported having Cocoa Beach take responsibility for operating any paid parking program at the park, using the city's technology system.
Separately, the Space Coast Office of Tourism plans to invest $3.5 million from its 5 percent Tourist Development Tax on hotel rooms and other short-term rentals to help pay for improvements and renovations to the park, through the beach improvement fund portion of the tax.
Barfield said the improvements will include such things as new trails, green areas and pavilions, as well as improved accessibility for people who have disabilities.
"Over the years, it hasn't been refreshed. It hasn't been refurbished," Barfield said. "And, now, we are going to be able to do that."
Tobia said, if Cocoa Beach took over Lori Wilson Park, the county could use that $3.5 million to upgrade other county parks.
"This would be a win-win for everyone," Tobia said.
Cocoa Beach Mayor Ben Malik told county commissioners his city in interested in working with the county on a coordinated parking plan, possibly using existing city-operated parking technology.
But Malik added that Cocoa Beach does not have the money to pay for the planned $3.5 million in renovations to the park.
During public comment, Cocoa Beach hotelier Tom Hermansen spoke in favor of Barfield's plan, saying the park — which dates back to the 1980s — is in need of upgrades.
"Lori Wilson Park, I've said, could be a crown jewel, but, I would, without being too critical, argue that it's an uncut jewel" now, Hermansen said. "What we're trying to do is dramatically improve this park. We need to maintain it through revenues on an ongoing basis."
Hermansen is president of Ocean Partners Hospitality, which owns and operates four Cocoa Beach hotels: the Best Western Oceanfront, Courtyard by Marriott, Days Inn and Hampton Inn. Hermansen also is a member of the Brevard County Tourist Development Council's Marketing Committee and its Capital Facilities Committee.
Hermansen also said county residents might not object to being charged "a reasonable fee — practically nothing" to support improvements at Lori Wilson Park.
In his presentation, Garvey indicated that, with the proposed automated parking technology system, Brevard County residents might be asked "to invest in that technology" for determining when county residents are driving into the park. He said that could be "a bar code or RFID chip" affixed to their vehicle allowing them "ongoing access to the park and parking for free."
Barfield said after the meeting, though, that he would strive to avoid any parking costs at Lori Wilson Park for Brevard residents.
Brevard County Tourist Development Council member Laurilee Thompson of Mims told county commissioners that the Lori Wilson Park enterprise plan could be used as a model to help pay for improvements at other county beachfront parks.
Thompson, co-owner of Dixie Crossroads Seafood Restaurant in Titusville, said the Lori Wilson Park upgrades also could help restore the park as a venue for bird-watchers.
Barfield — who is the County Commission's representative to the nine-member Tourist Development Council — said he wanted to move forward with the Lori Wilson Park upgrade plan immediately.
That, Barfield said, would be "the fastest and most efficient way" to proceed.
He said any negotiations between Brevard County and Cocoa Beach on the city's possible takeover of the park could come later.
Under the enterprise plan, the Tourist Development Council and its Beach Improvement Committee would provide the oversight for the beachfront parks enterprise plan.
The County Commission would continue to approve budget and agenda items related to Lori Wilson Park.
Tuesday's County Commission vote is a preliminary step.
Commissioners at a future meeting would discuss specific criteria for the beachfront parks enterprise plan and for the Lori Wilson Park implementation plan, including the technology and price structure for parking there.
Copyright 2017 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.